Today we welcome Cary Calhoun of Cary Calhoun Designs. Cary creates the most beautiful, intricate pieces of jewelry using classic metalsmithing techniques. Welcome, Cary!
Tell us a little bit about your jewelry company, Cary Calhoun Designs.
I love metal, primarily silver and gold, and I need to create pretty things. As a child, I enjoyed crafts where I could work with my hands – anything where something wonderful came from almost nothing. In my early 20’s, I took a beginning jewelry class and discovered soldering, the joining of precious metals using fire. I instantly knew that I wanted to make jewelry. I now create diverse lines, based purely on inspiration and the desire to create something exquisite. For example, my Classic Collection focuses on precious metals with clean and timeless designs. My Master Collection goes a bit bolder, taking original vintage molds and pairing with sleek contemporary chain–each piece is unique. In the end, no matter what the materials, I strive for exceptional.
The design process behind your new line, the Master Collection, sounds so interesting. Can you tell us about your creative process?
This discovery was serendipitous. I met a fellow who had purchased the vintage contents of a jewelry manufacturing plant in Rhode Island. There were many original molds from the 1920’s to 1950’s. I bought several of the pieces, put them on a shelf in my studio, then forgot about them for quite a while. One day, I just started playing with them and the ideas emerged. I ended up transforming these one-of-a-kind pieces with an updated look for the 21st century. For me, the creative process often works like that–I may have no idea what to do with a stone, a remnant or an artifact but I am drawn to it. It’s only later, after I percolate a bit, that I envision what it will become.
Metalsmithing seems like such an intricate form of art. How did you learn the craft? Do you continually study?
I took my first night class 25 years ago, and I went on to take many more classes and workshops and to learn and refine my metalsmithing techniques. I have been fortunate to study in and around the Southeast including Penland School of Crafts and John C. Campbell Folk School. I continue to study both by reading books and by taking classes. Sometimes, it is not as much to learn a new method but to just be with like-minded people and fire up the creative juices. Weekend workshops are great refreshers, and fortunately, there are savvy outlets in Atlanta now. My dream is to attend a class at the Le Arti Orafe in Florence, Italy.
You made the transition from a corporate banking job to working as a jeweler and metalsmith full-time, what were some of the obstacles that you faced when you made that transition?
When my son was born, it was obvious that a corporate job with 65% travel was no longer an option. My son was a year old when my husband built a jewelry studio at our home for my birthday. It was the nicest gift I had ever received, and I was so happy to have a place at home to work. The loss of a paycheck was the most obvious obstacle, but the lack of daily interaction with other people was also a huge adjustment. Working in my studio can be very solitary, and I try to balance that by being involved in other activities.
Do you have any secrets in balancing your work and your personal life?
I stay organized with an ongoing To Do list and I write everything down. My family jokes that I’ll even put a sticky note on my alarm clock that says, “Get Up.” In general, I try to look ahead and see what can be accomplished earlier rather than later.
A portion of your proceeds go towards the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and you also created a series of charm necklaces for Press On To CURE Childhood Cancer. Why did you decide to make giving back part of the Cary Calhoun Design philosophy?
My mother always said, “to whom much has been given, much is expected.” I have been given the gift of creativity, and it is with great pleasure that I am able to share that gift to help others. Designing the Press On charms has been a great collaboration with the Chance family, whose son Patrick lost a brave battle with neuroblastoma last year. The process also helped me learn the mass production side of the business. My sister, my godchild and I, along with many others, have Type 1 diabetes so it with a special interest that I support JDRF.
Tell us a little bit about your daily routine?
Oh my … This is a hard question to answer because it changes every day based on what demands attention. A perfectly sculpted day would be coffee and breakfast with family, exercise, studio time, research and development, and dinner with family.
Do you have a piece of jewelry (besides wedding rings) that you treasure the most?
My father had a ring made for my 16th birthday, and I was able to help in the design process. It is symbolic of the spark that set my life’s passion in motion.
Who are your mentors?
My husband, my son, my friends and all those amazing artists who have gone before me. I am inherently inspired by others’ journeys.
You are a fourth generation Atlantan. What was your favorite thing about growing up in here?
Atlanta was relatively small when I was growing up. Everyone knew everyone else. There was a strong sense of family, friendship, hospitality and community. These connections are so important, and it came full circle for me earlier this year when my mother passed away unexpectedly. Our community really lifted my family up with an outpouring of love and compassion. So that’s it in a nutshell–community!
What is the greatest piece of advice you have ever been given?
“Gratitude is the attitude that gives you altitude.” I saw it on a sign many years ago and have said it ever since. I enjoy torturing my teenage son and his friends by repeating this as often as I please. The runner Up? “Sleep on it.” Think of how many situations (and relationships!) have been salvaged by these three words!
What do you love most about Atlanta?
The people and their hospitality, four noticeable seasons, the vegetation and lush plantlife, the architecture, the distinct neighborhoods, the tree canopy, the hilly terrain, the festivals, the diversity, the history, the flea and farmers markets… Should I stop or keep going?
Where is your favorite place to eat dinner in Atlanta?
I love Anis for its consistency and its bistro-like atmosphere. I pretend that I am in France.
What is your favorite vacation spot?
It’s a toss up between Provence in the South of France or Tuscany in Italy.
What book are you reading right now?
I just finished Proof of Heaven by Dr. Eben Alexander and am starting Anne Lamont’s Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son’s First Son.
What are three things you couldn’t live without (besides God, Family and Friends):
Lipstick, laughter and insulin!
Thanks, Cary! For more information on Cary Calhoun Designs click here. You can find Cary’s beautiful pieces at Scout for the Home, Atlanta MADE (a brand new store on Howell Mill featuring Atlanta artist), and the Trinity Mercantile
And, thank you to our weekly FACES photographer, Amy Lesesne!